Tony Hawk's Proving Ground Review
Even though I've never met the man, I feel like Tony Hawk and I are old friends. Since the later years of the PS1, "Tony" and I have been through some good times and bad. My senior year in high school? Tony was there. My first semester away at college? Tony was there. For a handful of years, when I was going to play a video game, nine times out of ten, America's favorite pro skater was going to be front and center. Over the years, things have changed. I got my bachelor's degree, started a career and moved into adult life, but sadly, Tony has stayed about the same; kind of like that kid who still goes to high school parties, Mr. Hawk's games just never "grew up." To make matters worse, in a review for EA's recent near-masterpiece *skate, I declared an end to the era of Tony and crowned a new king to the skateboard video game throne.
Now, with Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, Neversoft has decided to give Tony his last go round, his last shot at reclaiming the throne he so deservedly held for nearly ten years. Proving Ground may not be the best game in the series, but if nothing else, it is a solid outing and a nice reminder of what made the series just so damn good in the first place.
Like the most of the more recent Tony Hawk games, Proving Ground puts you in control of a custom-designed, no-name skater and pushes you to rise through the ranks to skateboarding super stardom. Just like in the T.H.U.G. games, Proving Ground insists upon forcing a mainly bland and almost always uninteresting story upon the player. What Neversoft should have grasped is that by now, Tony Hawk gamers have perfected playing the game to almost an art form and have become capable of some truly amazing feats. Often, watching a really skilled Tony Hawk pro can be as poetic as seeing someone power through a difficult Guitar Hero track or Dance Dance Revolution song. Those of us who spent hours going for 1,000,000 points in the first game (remember the school? The warehouse?) want to be challenged, not told a story. Until Neversoft gets this, it seems we'll be subject to game after game filled with skater stereotypes and "radical dudes" checking out our latest "bails." Ugh.
So if the story is weak and Neversoft has been missing the point for about five years, what makes Proving Ground worth your time? Basically, even though nothing has really changed in a decade, Tony Hawk's gameplay is still as good as ever. Most reviewers will complain about Proving Ground's lack of innovation, but here's the thing - why should they fiddle with perfection? Tony Hawk Pro Skater changed the face of gaming forever and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 was as close to a perfect game as I've ever played. Years later, the grind button still makes the skater grind, the press-and-release ollie button still works the same way and even if you've balanced on a thousand rails, it is still just as satisfying in Proving Ground as it was the first time. In spite of themselves, if Tony Hawk's basics aren't meddled with, Neversoft will never, ever release a bad entry in the series.